“Artificial Intelligence cannot call bluffs and therefore is inferior to humans when it comes to playing poker.” This statement was part of my keynote speech at IBM last year, where I had been invited to preside over an interactive session on the subject of leadership. And what a surprise! The subject of the session was to be on “Digital Leadership – new management in times of digital transformation,” to state it more accurately. Obviously, generations Y and Z still play an important role today, which is why more and more studies pop up, that all seem to know with certainty what young people need to ensure that they will definitely stay with a company. I have also blogged about this subject in the past and have come to the conclusion both in my blog and in my speech at IBM that many myths are just that: myths.
Take the fact that hierarchies are out of date for instance. So-called digital natives do in fact want hierarchies, but they want the kind of hierarchy that allows them to negotiate depending on the subject at hand and are based on level of knowledge rather than seniority or even age. Furthermore, it is expected that executives provide and embrace visions, which young and new employees can use for guidance. Passion for certain subjects is virtually a requirement. Leaders who lack ambition and great enthusiasm are considered an impediment.
And this gets us to my initial theory, as there seems to be another movement that heads exactly in the opposite direction. As evidenced in a study done by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), employees were most satisfied when instructed solely by robots. I beg your pardon? A robot makes for a better boss? This study is not the only indication that robots will assume leadership functions in the future – functions, which up until now have been considered the most “human” of labor components. The introduction of robots as managers by Japanese company Hitachi has evidently been a success, even if it was only on a trial basis. The company states that efficiency in the production areas managed this way increased by eight percent. Furthermore, employee satisfaction increased as well.
Robots: Faster, fairer and eager to learn
This is due to the fact that robots indeed have many of the traits that are expected from a good manager: They are objective and therefore fair, not corruptible, hardworking, decisive and fast learners. Artificial Intelligence has been much more than a collection of digital formulae addressing the solution of certain problems for quite some time. Self-learning algorithms ensure that new knowledge is acquired on an ongoing basis. Take Siri, for example: The more questions people ask of Siri, the better, faster and more complex will the algorithm be able to provide an answer. This technology that teaches machines how to think is called “deep learning”. IBM has developed a computer program called Watson that even knows how to cook at this point!
Well, that takes care of things. In a few years, we won’t be needing any more managers, at least not the kind that is made of flesh and blood, right? Of course that is not the case. Because, no matter how great the technology, how flawlessly it learns, how fair its decision are, how efficiently it manages: It only knows one thing: to do everything right. But this is – I am sure of it – exactly what we won’t ever want. Because we do want to follow our intuition, make mistakes, cheat, show off, dream or be vain – and thus be less than perfect, unjust and inefficient. Everyone can’t be everything but most people know a little bit about something. What about when we want to take a gamble during salary negotiations? That would be hard when dealing with a robot. Managers who know how to deal with that and are still able to utilize digital intelligence where appropriate, will be tomorrow’s great leaders. For they are not artificial, but rather intelligent.